This summer, ELLE Canada asked our readers to write us a 700 personal essay on "the fashion moment that changed your life". The winner chosen by our panel of big-deal judges, published in the November issue. Jenna's piece was selected as one of our runners up.
Loyalty Cards by Jenna Hazzard
The first thing that I ever bought at a plus-sized store was a discounted, perfectly gaudy piece of costume jewellery. It was a hot summer afternoon and I was on the cusp of my senior year. My mother needed some new clothes for the fall season, so she let me tag along to the middle-class mecca: the outdoor mall that held Reitman’s, Pennington’s and Addition Elle. After wandering through the racks of her favourite plus-sized joint, my mother ended up shut away in a dressing room, refusing to show me anything that she didn’t like. The door remained shut for most of the visit, and I was forced to find my own entertainment.
The discounted jewelry rack was the safest option: one-size fits all and cheap. I fingered through the fine silver chains and the over-sized watches. When I finally selected a thick-chained, black gemmed necklace, my mother was still in the dressing room. I could see her small feet shuffling around the little room. I called out to her, partly to check on her progress, and partly to let the other shoppers know that I was not shopping for myself. Although my body was slowly expanding into the sizes stocked in the store, I could still squeeze into a roomy x-large. I wanted people to know that I was just a visitor; I didn’t belong in that store. The strangers needed to know I was not a plus-sized woman.
I waited until no other shoppers lingered around the till before I went up to pay for the necklace.
“Name?” The cashier asked before I even set the necklace on the counter.
“Oh no,” I said. “I’m not in the system.”
Without looking away from her computer screen, the cashier pulled out a pamphlet with a brightly coloured plastic card glued to the front. She slid it
towards me. “The loyalty program gives you special email offers and reward points.”
“No thank-you.” I practically threw the card back across the desk. “I don’t need that. I don’t even shop here.”
The cashier looked a little taken aback. Her eyes rolled over my body, peeking over her computer screen. My face burned.
“Thanks anyways,” I said, a bit weaker that time. “Why don’t you just put it under my mom’s account?”
For a long time I didn’t wear that necklace. It wasn’t a calculated avoidance, but I never did reach for it in the jewelry box. I suppose I was afraid that someone would ask where I got it. It was the kind of necklace that would garner questions, from both admirers and jewelry purists. And then I’d have to admit that I’d been shopping at a plus-size store.
As I moved through university, I put on another layer of fat like a cozy fall jacket. A purchase here and there at the plus-size stores became a wardrobe of large but beautiful clothes. Over the years, the clothes (and where I purchased them) stopped mattering, and what mattered was what my outfits said about me. The clothes became an expression of my creativity and my personality. That gaudy necklace I bought the summer before twelfth grade became a wardrobe staple. I was stuck in an all conquering ceasefire with my body.
But I still refused the loyalty card that the plus-sized store offered me every time I made a purchase. Every time I had them put the loyalty rewards under my mother’s account. I told myself I was doing her a favour, but that wasn’t it. Really, my loyalty card refusal was the result of a deep seated shame. I was ashamed of plus-sized stores, and by extension, the women, myself included, who shop at them. Bringing that shame into the light and giving it a name, made me realize how many matters of the soul (self worth, morality, work-ethic) I let be dictated by the pounds of flesh on my stomach. I realized that in the end, my body, my plus-sized body and the size clothes it wore, didn’t have to tell me what kind of person I could become.
And so, the next time I found myself adding to my plus-sized wardrobe, I signed up for the loyalty card.